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Friday, October 5, 2012

Scholars In The Making

(If you must have politics, please keep scrolling)

This year, my middle school class of twelve homeschool students is quite diverse: two of Chinese descent, two of Korean descent, one of Guatemalan descent adopted by black parents, and two of Ethiopian descent. All but one Korean student and the Guatemalan student, the former an arrival here some three months ago and the latter adopted at age three, were born in the United States.

The parents of the two students of Ethiopian descent grew up in Ethiopia and immigrated to the United States several years ago.  It is my understanding that this couple, both of them well-educated individuals and practicing Christians, came here for the freedoms and the other opportunities that America offers. I've heard some mention of persecution of the parents in Ethiopia, but haven't pursued classroom discussion of the topic as the two girls are not enrolled in my history courses.

Anyway, the point of this post is not to discuss politics.  Rather, I want to share information about how one of these girls, M, is such a fine student.

Every week or two, M's parents load all five of their always-immaculately-dressed-and-groomed children into the family's minivan and make a trip to the public library.  They return home loaded down with armloads of books as if treasures.   In their home, which I have visited several times, rarely does a child greet me without telling me about the "new" book that has brought delight into that child's life.  The younger children clamor to be read to, and, of course, the parents do so constantly – even when their mother was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer last spring.  Nothing gets in the way of education with this family!

As one might expect, M is one of the most avid readers I've ever encountered among all the students I have ever taught! She reads Shakespeare for fun – and has done so for at least two years,  She does research on the web  She reads the newspaper.  You name it, she reads it.

M, not yet twelve years old, knows more about the history of America than most other homeschoolers I have encountered even as compared to students at the high school level. M's parents find the time to take their children to museums and to patriotic events.  These children know America's heritage – their heritage.  Furthermore, nobody in the family, including the extended family, refers to Ethiopia as "my country."  Instead, America is "my country."  Assimilation!

Recently, M wrote an entry for the VFW's Patriot's Pen contest: "What Would I Tell America's Founding Fathers?" M chose to discuss Jacob Broom, "a plain good man" and perhaps the least known of the men at the Constitutional Convention.  She knew a lot of details about Broom because, over the summer, she had read a biography about him and his role in the American Revolution and at the Constitutional Convention.  For over 300 words, M's words leaped off the page and brought the man to life – her point being that a person whom one might consider insignificant can make a substantial contribution to establishing a nation – the best nation on earth as far as M is concerned and so stated.  She garnered an A+ from me, and I rarely put that grade on a composition.

When we cover material new to M, her whole face lights up!  Last year, with FreeThinke's help, I presented an Emily Dickinson unit.  Although M reads and writes a lot of poetry, she had never before heard of Emily Dickinson.  With new material coming to her attention, M got an intense look on her face –  a look of joy, really – and participated more actively than any other student in the discussions of the poems in the unit.  M took notes during the biopioc of Emily Dickinson's life and, after class, searched out as many Dickinson poems as she could find.   This year, when we read a few of the Belle of Amherst's poems in class one day, M showed how much she retained of last year's poetry unit.  I might as well have had M teaching the class!

M is way ahead of her grade level in every subject.  I attribute her academic success and her joy of learning to her parents' commitment to education – and to her great intellect, too, of course.  I also must not omit her dedication to the Lord.  She does everything as unto the Lord: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord...(Colossians 3:23). 

America needs more immigrants like M's family.


  1. AMEN! AND MORE ALREADY HERE TO BE DEDICATED TO HIM ALSO! Completely charming and disarming, a beautiful intellect! It's no coincidence she's in your capable mentoring hands!

  2. Lady Liberty,
    I have many fine students. As a group, homeschoolers are dedicated to learning. Beyond that factor, I am selective as to just whom I will accept into the kinds of classes I teach. I do not exclude students with significant learning differences. In fact, I LOVE learning differences. I will NOT accept discipline problems and families who will not prioritize getting work in on time.

    My method is diagnostic and prescriptive -- much like a good one-room schoolhouse. I was taught by this method and, for 18 years, worked in a small, private Christian school that utilized this same method. Yes, the method does work. But the teacher cannot merely follow a recipe; lesson plans often remain in flux and need adjustment as teachable moments present themselves. And I'm exhausted before lunch time even rolls around.

    But this particular family about whom I've posted really stands out -- and not because of their race, either. It's THEIR commitment to the Lord and to scholarship. Their oldest child may have attended traditional school for a short period of time; if she did, she must have been bored out of her skull.

  3. "America needs more immigrants like M's family."

    Yes we do. And we can start by shutting down the progressive victim mills run by the federal government that ropes newcomers into penurious, disempowering slavery and helplessness.

  4. A heartwarming story, AOW!

    It's great to see something POSITIVE for a change -- a rare treat in fact.

    Maybe, since we seem to want to micro-manage everything of the federal level, we ought to start screening applicants for citizenship on IQ and family's attitude toward LEARNING.

    Notice I did not say towards "EDUCATION," because that has become a dirty word for all the reasons Kurt SilverFiddle gave in his post here today.

    Stories like this also serve to counteract the liberal lit that conservatives "hate" minorities and would like either to put tem back in chains or just get rid of them.

    It has NEVER been about "race," it has ALWAYS been about BEHAVIOR and CULTURE.

    ~ FT

  5. This post was a pleasure to read.
    "America needs more immigrants like M's family"

    Indeed we could use a lot more "American" families like M's.

  6. What a touching story. Our country needs more immigrants like M and her family, but we also need more teachers like you, AOW.

  7. I enjoyed reading this.
    I've sent a link to it to Bill Bennett.
    He loves this stuff.

  8. What a great personal story AOW. Your student makes some American-born students look lazy. Reading is educational, fun, it stirs the imagination. I think actually reading books, real books, is much more stimulating to the mind, rather than looking at a computer screen.

    My grandson is an A student, but he always hated reading. I never could understand it.

    Right Truth

  9. The American education system has been producing “gray flannel suits” since 1945. Only academic eggheads are allowed to define creativity —usually restricted to the arts, but no one every imagines there are artists in other fields: electricians, welders, mechanics, engineers, and software designers. Public schools prefer graduates at best qualify for a minimum wage job. It prefers that they sit down when the bell rings, and get up when the bell rings. American education today is the result of these so-called educational professionals never bothering to ask any student, or their parent, about the student’s interests or aspirations. This is why I wholeheartedly support what you are doing as a home school teacher, and why I support school vouchers that enable students to break the cycle of institutional stupidity. Good for you, AOW … and good for M.

  10. Sam, I take it you're not a devotee of Dewey.

  11. Debbie,
    Many American students are indeed lazy. I don't entirely blame the students; many parents simply do not see learning as a priority. On the other hand, so much of what schools do does not deserve to be prioritized.

    Also, the mantra of "build their self-esteem" has taken a huge toll on learning. Children of all ages know false praise when they encounter it.

    Learning requires that students be "the best that they can be," corny as the phrase is.

    My goal is to take the students from where they are and move them forward as far as they can go under my tutelage.

    Do I praise students? Only when they deserve it! And when a student produces outstanding work, I make a big deal out of it -- even though I know that not all students will achieve that same level of achievement.

    Set the bar high -- and we get a better result.

    In my experience, more students crash and burn emotionally from lax expectations than from high ones.

    I do one more thing: I say out loud to my students "I'm an idiot" when I do something stupid. We ALL do something stupid from time to time -- if not more frequently. Learn from the experience, and don't forget to laugh at oneself in the process.

  12. Sam,
    Thank you for the compliment.

    In my view, neither the traditional classroom nor homeschooling is for everyone. One size does NOT fit all!

    I will say that, in many respects, homeschooling does allow for more latitude and for more discovery of students' strengths. Get the information and concepts in through the areas of strength, and, at the same time, work on the areas of weakness.

  13. In my experience, the education system and parents too quickly label students. When the label becomes an excuse, learning will not take place.

    There are a few methods of learning therapy that really do work.

    But it used to be that teachers somehow instinctively did "learning therapy" as a routine part of instruction.

    I've heard it said that the study of Latin is, in and of itself, an effective learning therapy. I think so.

    I know for a FACT that Latin teaches critical thinking. Quite recently, linguist John McWhorter has written on that topic.

    It is no accident that our Founders, who studied Latin via private tutors from an early age (beginning at age 7 or 9), were critical thinkers.

  14. One size fits all doesn’t work in almost everything. There was a time when only about 60% of high school students graduated. I did not see this as a problem because someone has to mop the floor and scour the toilet … better that is someone who decided to drop out of high school than someone who decided to stick with it. Of those 60% who graduated, only about 20% ever thought about going to college. This was not a problem either, because most of them graduated from college and went on to become doctors and jurists. It doesn’t matter what the rest of them did. In contrast, today we have more kids graduating from college who know less than most high school graduates sixty years ago. Public education today is a colossal waste of money. Congratulations Ms AOW for making an important contribution to the lives of your students.

  15. WHat a wonderful family of immigrants, AOW...the true heart of immigrants who used to come to this country for who they could be here,not how much they could get $$$ here.
    I wish M a beautiful future...and I hope her mother's doing better!?

    they're lucky to have you, AOW>

  16. Z,
    M's mother received a late-stage-cancer diagnosis. Nevertheless, she is still alive several months later. God's grace! Those five children need their mother.

    One particular family in the homeschool group helps M's mother with getting her children to class. This family doing the helping doesn't live close to M's family and with a baby and a toddler, too! Of course, a van is needed to accomplish the transportation.

    Christians with the heart of a servant serve the Lord.

    All of us in the homeschool group want M's family in the group as these children are an asset to every class that they take.

  17. Debbie,
    I have had some success in getting boys who hate reading to enjoy books.

    I start by giving them reading material on a topic that interests them. For example, my former student MB hated to read. Why, nobody knows as he was always a good reader. But he read only when he had to read.

    MB's mother gave me a lot of latitude, so I handed MB a copy of Stephen King's Different Seasons when MB was in 7th or 8th grade. Yes, MB liked "creepy stuff." Stephen King's was a good choice not only because of the topic but also because of the vocabulary level -- never mind the f-bomb. As a former high school teacher, King knows how to build erudite vocabulary.

    Anyway, MB loved Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas. And MB was off and running with reading!

    In a few months, I introduced The Diary of Anne Frank followed by Elie Wiesel's Night as MB also had an interest in the Holocaust. In a few years, MB was reading and understanding Liberal Fascism! He also reads a lot of Shakespearean plays -- for fun.

    Today, MB is an honors student at Hillsdale College.

    I had similar success with GMC, who loved satire. So, I gave him a copy of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Success! I also had him read Of Mice and Men because GMC had a younger brother with Downs Syndrome.

    In my view, the key to instilling a joy of reading is "the fit" between the reader and the reading material.

    PS: Beowulf is one book that a lot of boys love. The key is to obtain the best transliteration. I've never had any student dislike Beowulf!

  18. AOW, what an inspiration this story is! I'm glad that we have such children maturing... I see a lot of great things in M's future!

    You know of my struggles with my son's education.. A story like this and the comments here give me hope.

  19. Brooke,
    Learning differences ARE manageable. However, just because somebody has a degree in special ed doesn't mean that the specialist knows what to do.

    In my experience, rhythmic writing and "Listen, My Child" work wonders!

  20. Brooke,
    Check out NILD. The Discovery Program link is on the left sidebar there. I believe that parents can be trained in Discovery methods!

    I've seen the wonderful results from the Discovery Program. Call me if you have questions.

  21. I much enjoyed reading about M and your other students. It must be gratifying to teach a young mind that loves learning and sees schooling as joyous rather than painful. God bless M, her family and her teacher.

  22. ... but remember AOW that if you assign "Liberal Fascism" you are indoctrinating a student.

    That's probably fine with everyone involved but remember it is indoctrination.


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